Express News Service

KOCHI: The humble dish kanji has always been a global dish. In England, it is porridge made of oats and in China, it is called congee, or more accurately zhou in Mandarin and juk in Cantonese. Russians have kasha made of buckwheat. And Italians consume polenta made of cornmeal.

The kanji has adapted to various cultures and climates throughout history. Though basic and easy to prepare, it is a wholesome dish and rich in nutrients. Kanji can be sweet or savoury and can be paired with literally any side dish. The most important characteristic is that the kanji itself is cost effective which is often crucial for people living in areas where resources are limited.

The porridge, historians say, evolved among agricultural societies that practised grain cultivation starting from the Neolithic period. However, the modern-day western oats porridge originated in medieval Scotland. The Scottish porridge is prepared by gently boiling oat flakes in water or milk, with a touch of butter and a final pinch of salt.

And slowly it evolved into a common breakfast dish often sweetened with sugar or honey. Several toppings like fresh fruits, granola,dry fruits, chia seeds and many more are added to enhance the taste of it.
Not just Scotland, in Switzerland too, people found solace in oatmeal porridge amid the harsh winters.

This filling and easy-to-prepare dish became a lifeline for farmers and their horses navigating the Alpine peaks, battling the cold.In Kerala, the kanji is prepared by boiling rice with water and adding a pinch of salt.

From pickle to pappadam and fish fry, anything can accompany a plate of hot kanji. However, nothing comes close to cherupayar or moong bean. And in Kerala, it has been a dietary mainstay for generations often consumed as a main course, particularly for dinner.

Then there is the legendary soul food, ‘pazhankanji’ made from left over rice soaked overnight in water at room temperature. It is paired with thick curd, a fiery green chili and coconut chammandhi.Crushed shallots and pickle makes it heavenly. It is a powerhouse of nutrients, can cool the body from scorching heat and serve as perfect energy boost.

Then, there is the ‘palkanji’, where milk replaces the water base and gives it a creamy texture.During the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam, the monsoon season, a medicinal kanji is prepared with several ayurvedic herbs. The dish is said to boost immunity, overcome fatigue and prevent diseases like fever and diarrhoea.

During Ramzan, devotees prepare ‘Nombu kanji’ cooked in coconut milk  by adding spices like turmeric, ginger, pepper and onion.A sweeter version called ‘Thari kanji’ is prepared with rava, ghee and roasted dry fruits, and is often served during Iftar.

People around the world have embraced the varieties of porridge, experimenting with grains, fruits, nuts, and spices.Although the modern generation chases the distinctive tastes of fast food, kanji will continues to hold its place in the hearts of Malayalis.

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